Between Apples: Steve Jobs' NeXT Years

Before he became the technology CEO who could do no wrong, I knew Steve Jobs during his "gap" years at NeXT Computer.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Most of you reading this knew the Steve Jobs who always had "One more thing" miracle up his sleeve to dazzle Apple's fans and leave Apple's rivals wondering what they could do to keep up with him. Others will recall the Apple of the two Steves and the pre-Mac Apple II series. Me? I knew the Steve Jobs who founded Next Computer in his exile from Apple

I've already written about NeXTStep, the first Unix desktop meant for a mass market, which lives on today in the form of its great-grandson Mac OS X, so I'm not going to rehash the company, its works of modern art that were also computers, and the operating system. Instead, I want to tell you about the Jobs I knew.

In recent years, Jobs was a very private man who ran a paranoid company that didn't have a minute for the press. In technology journalism circles it's become a joke how people chase the merest hint of news about a new Apple product. That wasn't the Jobs I knew.

The Jobs I knew was ever so slightly shaken when Apple, which he had turned into a two-billion dollar company before he'd turned 30, fired him in 1985. The Jobs I knew, from the late 80s to the mid-90s was happy to talk to me and the rest of the press. I like to think he rather liked me since I was one of the few people who took his new company, NeXT; his new PCs, the NeXT Cube and the NeXTStation, and his new operating system, NeXTStep seriously.

I do know that we talked fairly often, and while you could never accuse me of being an Apple fan boy, I too felt the effects of his "reality distortion field." Jobs could believe in something with so much passion, with so much conviction, that if you were near him, you too would believe in his vision.

Over the years I've met many charismatic people. No one, but no one had as much charisma as Jobs when he was on. Not George Clooney, not Bill Clinton, and certainly no one in the technology field even came close.

I've also had the privilege of meeting many brilliant people. Jobs may have been the brightest of them all. Certainly, I can't think of anyone else who combined so much native genius with such a driving work-ethic and that gift of persuasion that could get others to help him create his technology dreams.

I think sometimes people forget that Jobs wasn't just about those wonderful iDevices that we can't get enough of. At the same time he was staring NeXT, he was also founding Pixar, the company that redefined animation, and laying the foundation for the Mac's object-oriented software development environment Cocoa. Any of these things: the founding of Apple, NeXT, Pixar, or making object-oriented software development mainstream, would have been enough to make Jobs a name that would live history. Put it all together and you have a unique individual.

And, now, now Jobs is gone.

It is a very strange feeling to be writing this. I knew I would be writing this earlier this year. The only way Steve Jobs was ever going to step down from Apple's CEO chair was if he were dying. It is very hard for me to reconcile the vibrant, brilliant man I knew in the NeXT years with the sick man who was being kept alive almost by pure will alone for the last years.

Good-bye Steve. I am very glad to have known you. I wish, oh how I wish, that you would have decades more to delight us with your technological marvels.

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